Join in listening to this wonderful conversation I had with Michael Harris.
Michael has been telling “sit on the edge of your seat stories” ever since his first show and tell in grade school – some stories will make you laugh – others are quite tragic that could bring any listener to tears. He shares in his #1 book, Falling Down Getting UP, how starting in 1987, yoga helped heal him from several near fatal predicaments.
Today, Michael is a popular yoga teacher with three certifications from Erich Schiffman, Integral Yoga and Bikram Yoga. In addition, he is an author, lifelong entrepreneur and co-founder of Endless Stages – a company dedicated to help motivated yogis, healers and entrepreneurs get their personal voice, message and story out to the world.
You can listen to the full episode for free here.
We’ll just so the listeners are aware you you gave me the best surprise ever because we had scheduled to do this podcast quite a while ago. I know we worked really hard at finding a date that we could both organize to make this work. Just prior to me hitting the record button, Michael, you reminded me that you and I had met in California, at Bikram Yoga Teacher Training. You were one of the teachers that were helping teach some of the classes at the training. I didn’t even know that was you when we were scheduling this appointment. So now the fact that I’m getting a chance to speak with you I am so exited. I remember you very clearly. I loved your classes! I felt like you were a grounding force in a really wild world. You know? I’m just now getting a chance to pick your brain and find out where you are at with Bikram yoga, and what you’re doing now. So on that note, can you just start telling me and filling me in on your journey? And I guess I’ll be a little more specific. Let’s go way, way back. Can you tell me the first time you start practicing yoga? What was the first yoga class you ever got a chance to take?
Absolutely. You know, the first time that I took a yoga class was 1988. Yes. Or excuse me,1987. I had vascular surgery in November of 1986. I had blocked arteries. The doctors at the time suggested that they may need to amputate my leg. I was pretty blunt to them and saying that that wasn’t gonna happen. I ended up at a place called Pritikin Longevity Center, which is in Santa Monica, but no longer there. By the ocean right down on the boardwalk pretty close to the Santa Monica Pier. When I first got there, I was walking on a cane I could walk literally about 10 feet. Cane in one hand, my other hand on the wall. Well, I could barely walk. To make a long story much shorter. The doctors that I was seeing in Portland for my vascular disease suggested that when it hurt that I should not move my body. And not to walk. The doctor at the Pritikin Center said when it hurts, keep walking. In hindsight, it was a huge spiritual wake up call to me. It was one of a number of times that I can identify over the years. But that particular one, he says get up and walk and walk through the pain. He says I just want you to go out there on the boardwalk and start walking. Initially, I was pretty scared to. I was in serious pain and was nervous because the movement seem to make me feel more pain. Yet he said, “Yes, it’s gonna hurt.” And he says, “Just keep doing what you can do.” Well, here I am. You know, 1987 that was actually March of 1987. There was a lot of women on rollerblades. And here I am. I’m a sick man. And I don’t want to be a sick man. I want to feel strong and healthy. And I had already had a lot of self esteem issues and everything else that I’ve struggled with. And so I wanted to walk tall. So within two weeks, I went from walking 10 feet to two miles, unassisted without my cane without a wall.
And the sheer process of moving my body. Of walking, going one foot in front of the next, helped to build new blood vessels in my leg and collateral blood vessels.
So as those new vessels were being built, in addition to that, the popliteal arteries where the primary blockages were began to heal as well. So not only was I getting the collaterals, I was also getting the popliteal artery to begin to heal. So answering your question about the first yoga class, the first yoga class was at the Pritikin Longevity Center. Now, granted, it wasn’t a very vigorous class. It was mostly for people in rehabilitation of some sort. It was really known more for weight loss. Although I wasn’t heavy, I’ve never really been heavy in my life. So losing weight wasn’t my challenge, they actually wanted me to gain weight. But there’s also a plant based facility at Pritikin Longevity Center. So they said I can eat as much food as I want. So I was walking, I started doing some yoga classes in the basement, and I was eating all the plant based food I could possibly eat.
Yeah, it was good.
Well, that’s incredible! That’s a really great story in terms of endurance and overcoming, like you said, that fear of working into the pain. Having that question like, “what do you mean…..walk more?” That whole transformation process of pushing through that. I’m curious, from taking yoga in the Pritikin environment there. What was your next step in relation to seeking other types of yoga? What was the evolution? How did it evolve from here?
Yep. Well, I was living in Portland at the time, so I was just down there for the Pritikin Center. And when I went back to Portland, I started going to a yoga class at the gym. Because I was doing the gym, I was doing the treadmill. When I first started doing the treadmill, actually, was at Pritikin Center. I was going point three miles an hour. As slow as the treadmill would move. That’s how slow I was going. And I was struggling. But I did more at the gym. And I was also walking in a park near my house as much as I could, but they had a yoga class there. And I would not call it a gym yoga, you know, however you want to perceive that to be, but it was a wonderful class. And at the end, they did candle gazing and I really liked it. When they would have me do downward dog. I would fall out of it. I couldn’t do much. But it led me to another general hatha yoga class. Diane Wilson was quite important for years. And I started taking her class. And I’m kind of jumping here ahead a little bit. I started doing Ashtanga Yoga. I saw a flyer for Yoga for Skiers. And I hadn’t skied for years because my condition and I want to get back to skiing. Somebody named Beryl Bender Birch was in Portland teaching and I thought, well, I’m gonna go to this thing and see if I can start skiing again. Well, I had what some people would call perhaps a kundalini experience and feeling the sensations in my body. Like tears flowing and just like opening up. Through this process and diving into Ashtanga I did a lot of stuff with David Swenson and a guy named Clifford. A lot of people don’t know who he was. He was one of the really early people. Nancy Gilgoff. I got a lot of time with her over in Maui.
Isn’t her place amazing? When you gotta look for the tomato sign when you’re driving up country on Maui? Everyone tells you like look for the tomato farm sign and then pull it you’ll find the house of Zen right? Is it called House of yoga and Zen or house of Zen? What a great little setup. That little wooden barn kind of yoga studio structure on that farm. Wow, studying with Nancy is like a real treat. That’s amazing. That’s cool, Michael. I love David Swenson. I’ve never had a chance to practice with Beryl Bender Birch, but she’s a bit of a legend in the Ashtanga vinyasa world as well.
Yeah. And a little bit more in synchronicity with Nancy. I don’t like staying in motels or hotels. So I was looking for a place to stay in apartment, a house something to rent. I rented this place. And you know, this guy named Gary and I called him and I said, Oh, do you know that Nancy? He says, oh, yeah, and that was about it. Didn’t say much. Well, when I got there, and it was rented apartment in his basement, do you know who Gary Kraftsow is?
Oh yeah, he’s one of the famous teachers of Viniyoga.
One of his primary teachers was really close to Desikachar. I had no idea when I rented this place who it was. So here I am staying at Gary Kraftsow’s house. Also studying with Nancy. Wow. It was just like, you know, I mean, totally immersed.
That’s right. When I lived on Maui for a year, and I remember seeing that he had a center in the upcountry area when I started looking into yoga. I never went but I remember his place was associated with a bodywork studio that always looked so interesting to me. That’s really cool. I can imagine that. Yeah, you’re staying with Gary, you’re getting your butt kicked with Nancy and in a good way. So at this point, I’m thinking you’ve made a pretty radical transformation from holding on to the wall walking 10 steps, if you’re hanging out with these yoga legends? Were you “back to normal” at this point? Where are you at at this phase?
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